HC Deb 11 November 1954 vol 532 cc1463-7

(1) There shall be constituted a Council, to be called the Food Hygiene Advisory Council, which shall consist of a chairman appointed by the Ministers and such number of other members so appointed as the Ministers may determine.

(2) The members of the said Council so appointed shall include—

  1. (a) persons appearing to the Ministers to be qualified to represent the interests of the public generally in relation to matters of food hygiene and related matters,
  2. (b) persons appearing to the Ministers to be representative of persons carrying on any of the classes of trade or business affected by the operation in relation to food of the Food and Drugs Acts, 1938 to 1954, and
  3. (c) persons appearing to the Ministers to be representative of workers employed in any of the said classes of trade or business;
and the terms of their appointment shall be such as the Ministers may determine.

(3) The Ministers or either of them may from time to time refer to the said Council for consideration or advice such questions as they think fit, being questions relating to the Food and Drugs Acts, 1938 to 1954, as they apply in relation to food.

(4) Without prejudice to the last foregoing subsection, where the Ministers propose to make—

  1. (a) any regulations under section five (labelling, marking, and advertising of food), section six (food hygiene), or section ten (licensing of vehicles, etc.) of this Act, or
  2. (b) any order under section nine of this Act (extension of registration),
they shall (unless it appears to them to be inexpedient to do so having regard to the urgency of the matter) refer the proposals in the form of draft regulations or a draft order, or otherwise, to the Food Hygiene Advisory Council for consideration and advice.

(5) The Minister may, out of moneys provided by Parliament, pay to the chairman and other members of the Food Hygiene Advisory Council, and to persons attending meetings at the request of the Council, such allowances as he may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine in respect of travelling and subsistence expenses and in respect of other expenses (if any) necessarily incurred by them for the purpose of enabling them to discharge their functions as members of the Council.

(6) Nothing in this section shall be taken as prejudicing the effect of subsection (4) of section ninety-two of the principal Act.—[Mr. Amory.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of Food (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause implements the undertaking that I gave in Committee, as a result of the Amendments put down on both sides of the Committee, for some kind of a council, to advise the Ministers in matters of food hygiene and so on. I think that the kind of council we are suggesting here should prove very useful and suitable. It is to consist of a chairman and members appointed by the Ministers, those members being representative of the employers and the workers in the food trades and of the public at large. The Clause will empower Ministers to put to the council, for advice, such matters as they think fit, and it requires Ministers to put to the council draft regulations dealing with labelling, hygiene, any orders extending registration, and the licensing of street traders.

The point I want to stress is that it is not intended that this council shall in any way interfere with direct consultations with the trade on technical trade matters, which consultations go on at present as they have gone on in the past. Those consultations will go on exactly as heretofore; this will be something additional. I think that it will prove to be a useful and proper body, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will feel that it will implement fairly satisfactorily the wishes they expressed at an earlier stage.

Mr. Willey

We are now reaching the more amicable part of our discussions, and I can say at once on behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends that we accept this as an improvement upon the proposed new Clause which we put down. It will be an advantage to bring in the representatives of the public. It is not necessary for me to say more than that we accept this body and hope that it will play a very important part in the administration of the Bill. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about direct consultation, save to add that I believe that the council will in fact be able to have better consultation. It certainly will not impair it.

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention the question of research. We raised that matter at an earlier stage, but we accepted the undertaking which he then gave that he would make a special study of research as it affected the food trades, and we are therefore not disappointed that there is no reference to it in the new Clause. We accept it, as I say, as being an improvement upon the proposals we made.

Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) also raised this question, and on his behalf and on behalf of those who agree with him, I thank the Minister for moving the new Clause. I think it is an advance, and it may well be a very useful example which will help to deal with the education of traders and public alike in questions dealing with food hygiene. This matter is so complicated and has so many ramifications that this gathering together of knowledge and experience may well be of great use.

There are, however, two questions which I should like to raise. A word of warning should be given about the danger of overlapping with existing committees, institutes and so on. For instance, if this body is going to deal with the question of pure food as well as food hygiene, we must remember that the Food Standards Committee now deals with that matter and is in close touch with the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council and other associations which deal with the food industry. If this council overlaps the Food Standards Committee it will be a disadvantage. I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to draw up terms of reference which will avoid that overlapping.

The Clause says that: The Ministers or either of them may from time to time refer to the said Council certain things. Later, it says: Without prejudice to the last foregoing subsection … they shall … refer certain specific things to the council. That is all right as far as it goes, but is there to be a two-way traffic in this matter? Is the council required to go into certain questions in advance of the Ministers? I am referring not so much to research as to new processes and practices. Such a procedure might well be thought to be of use, although perhaps not usual in councils or committees of this kind. In the case of certain other advisory committees there is only a one-way traffic, but in this case careful consideration should be given to the question whether there should not be a two-way traffic. The council might advise the Minister on its own, as well as doing so when he wants advice. Having mentioned those two points, I welcome the new Clause.

6.45 p.m.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I welcome the new Clause, but I urge upon the Minister and his right hon. Friend that when they choose the men and women who are to constitute this council, they should pay special attention to biochemists and the scientific officers in the food industry who have done so much in the last two or three decades to improve the standards of cleanliness and hygiene under which so many of our foods, especially packaged foods, are produced.

These people work with a scientific integrity in trying to raise the standards of the foods produced by the firms for whom they work. They have a special knowledge and a fine objectivity which could very properly be used by such a body as the proposed advisory council. In their long association with industry they have learned what can and cannot be done and what ought and ought not to be done, and it would be a pity if their attributes and great skill were not so used by the council. I am certain that these biochemists and scientific officers would be only too ready to give their services and advice to the Council and the Ministers concerned.

Dr. Broughton

I rise for one moment only to seek the assurance of the Minister that the Food Hygiene Advisory Council will pay close attention to the matter of the education of food handlers. The long discussions which we have had on the Bill have shown that hon. Members on both sides regard this legislation as important and necessary in order to raise the standard of hygiene in food establishments, but I believe that the education of food handlers is even more important. I am convinced that that education can be beneficial only if it is offered and undertaken on a purely voluntary basis. I regard this matter of voluntary education of food handlers as of such great importance that I should like the Minister's firm assurance that this Council is going to pay very dose attention to it.

Mr. Amory

It seems to me that what my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) said was very much to the point. When we come to the question of fixing the terms of reference of the council, I shall certainly bear in mind the questions which they have raised.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be added to the Bill." —[Mr. Amory.]

Dr. Broughton

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in subsection (4), after "(extension of registration)," to insert: or to publish any such code of practice as is mentioned in subsection (6) of section six of this Act. In our early discussions I moved an Amendment asking the Minister to include in the Bill the mention of a code of practice. We on this side have accepted the arguments put forward on Second Reading about the need of a code of practice and consider it is an important matter. The Minister said then, when I mentioned it, that he would give my suggestion further consideration. He was not then quite sure whether the code of practice should be laid down by him or by an outside body. However, whether the code is to be drawn up by the Minister or by an outside body I hope that this Amendment may be accepted.

Mr. Amory

The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) has thought of something that, I own, I had forgotten. It seems to me to be a very useful provision. I think it is appropriate that the code of practice should be referred to this council, and I gladly accept the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, thanking him for calling my attention to this matter.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended (in Committee and on recommittal), considered.